SEAT Leon Cupra: Meet the evil twin

  • A passenger ride in the SEAT Leon Cup Racer
  • Competes in a one-make series across Europe
  • More in common with road car than you might think

While we were at Mallory Park to compare our long-termer with the Cupra 265 model, we also had the opportunity to meet the lairy racing version: the SEAT Leon Cup Racer.

Created for a six-race championship in six European countries this year, all Leon Cup Racer cars are identical and are based on the regular road-going Leon five-door hatchback.

Although the Cup Racer looks like an exotic prototype racer, it actually shares far more parts with the Leon road car than you might expect. Much of the bodyshell is the same, although it’s grown some seriously wide arches to house the far wider-spaced wheels. Likewise, much of the suspension is standard although some components have necessarily been lengthened.

Under the bonnet you’ll find a normal 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine from the road car but a different computer and racing exhaust system free up more than 40bhp between them for a 326bhp total.

Gearbox is the DSG automatic transmission from the road car but reprogrammed to allow the driver to downshift at higher revs. Gear changes are faster and more abrupt, too – there’s no need to make it smooth and comfortable like the road car.

We’re going to hop in for a passenger ride alongside Spanish racing driver Jordi Gené, a former Formula 3000 and SEAT World Touring Car driver who shouldered much of the development work for the Cup Racer, so it’s fair to say he knows the car pretty well.

Sitting on its hydraulic jacks in the pit lane at Mallory, the Cup Racer looks fantastic. All the angular slashes and creases of the Leon road car are brought out and accentuated by those ultra-wide arches and enormous rear wing – it’s a great looking machine.

Climbing into the passenger seat, it’s odd seeing familiar bits of Leon road car trim around the doors and dashboard rubbing shoulders with racing car staples such as a beefy roll cage, brake bias adjuster and fire extinguisher.

Turning circle’s not quite a match for the road car. Like many racing cars, there’s not much in the way of steering lock and leaving the pit garage requires a three-point turn. We accelerate onto the circuit and first impression is just how loud the car is considering it’s a regular road engine – shows what deleting all a car’s sound deadening and adding a race exhaust system can do for you.

This is the first time Gené’s been back to Mallory since racing in the British Formula Ford Championship at the end of the 1980s but he seems to have remembered his way round pretty well. He carries plenty of speed into the fast corners and hits the brakes very, very hard in the braking zones. The Cup Racer is set up to be far more twitchy and on a knife edge than the road car, which Gené demonstrates by lifting off the power part-way round the first corner to put the car into a lovely controlled slide.

The Cup Racer was developed impressively quickly – work on the car only began last December and the championship started in early May. If you have a spare 70,000 Euros, SEAT still has a few for sale…

Mileage: 1,136 miles

Fuel economy: 17.7mpg